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China’s DF-21D and DF-26B Anti-Ship Missiles Hit Target Vessel in August

USS Gerald R. Ford
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Oct. 29, 2019) The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) conducts high-speed turns in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 29, 2019. Gerald R. Ford is at sea conducting sea trials following the in port portion of its 15-month post-shakedown availability.

With news breaking that when China test-fired both the DF-21D and DF-26B anti-ship ballistic missiles back in August and was able to hit an oceangoing vessel–not drop the missiles into the sea, as was thought until now–I have been reaching out to colleagues in the know on this topic for some reactions. Here are several questions I posed to Loren Thompson, Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and a regular contributor at Forbes for his take:

First, give us your sense of the development of both these missiles? Are you surprised at the speed of how quickly China has developed, deployed, and tested them over the last decade?

I am not surprised at the speed with which China has developed long-range anti-ship missiles. Beijing’s top military priority (other than avoiding nuclear war) is to secure control of adjacent seas. That is the main driver behind its huge naval shipbuilding program, and its efforts to field highly accurate anti-ship missiles–both ballistic and airborne.

While we knew back in the summer that China tested both the DF-21D and DF-26B missiles, we did not know they were tested against moving vessels, as many assumed the missiles splashed down into the sea. What message is China trying to send?

Testing the DF-21 and DF-26B against actual vessels clearly conveys the message that U.S. warships operating near China are at risk in a war. That message might deter U.S. military action if, for instance, Beijing elected to take Taiwan by force. More broadly, the highly realistic testing underscores that any maritime force threatening China’s homeland is going to encounter a withering military response.

In your view, has the United States and its allies taken this threat seriously? Have we done enough to try and mitigate it?

The U.S. Navy takes the DF-21/DF-26 threat very seriously. It is continuously improving the missile defenses of its Aegis warships, and considering changes in fleet design intended to bolster the survivability of the force. Much of the Navy’s response is secret. For example, it is assumed that in a war, the U.S. Navy would move quickly to disable targeting systems used to aim long-range anti-ship missiles, but little has been said about this in public.

Written By

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidental Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar task force in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree focusing on International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization.

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